Category Archives: Hardware

Real knobs on your monitor

Since we’re looking at interesting controllers, here’s an entirely different take on the issue… what if you could just stick a physical knob onto your computer screen, and the physical knob became one with the onscreen knob? Intriguing.girton_labs_mixer

There’s a prophead-type gent in Cambridge UK that proposes to give you exactly that. Seems this Lyndsay Williams fellow and his company, Girton Labs, are busy working out how to build knobs that magnetically stick to your lappy screen, and via both hardware and software, let you manipulate the underlying onscreen controls and therefore the attached software function.

It’s all very much in the beta test phase, and no prices or delivery date is set (or even hinted at). But there are videos on the website showing the SenseSurface in action… you should go check it out for yourself.

I’m not sure a laptop is the best platform for this — I’m thinking 30″ flat-screen monitors angled back — but if this can truly be made to work it would give us DIY controllers that could be easily re-configured on the fly, depending on the application. I can visualize a box ‘o pots and sliders next to the monitor… sweet.

Hat tip to Charlie Richmond at Richmond Sound Design; the full story at Girton’s website: girtonlabs – SenseSurface – Girton Labs Cambridge

Teeny little controllers from Korg

In the midst of recording and editing dialog for a new videogame (whose name I unfortunately cannot divulge), I caught wind of these new workstation controllers from Korg, cleverly grouped together as the nanoSERIES:Korg nanoSERIES USB controllers for laptops.

There are three of them, and each is designed specifically for laptop use. They connect to your computer via USB, and appear to be bus-powered (at least for one at a time use. Don’t know if you can connect more with a hub or not). They all speak MIDI, so it should be possible to program them to perform various functions, as most Mac and PC software editors now support MIDI controllers and Continuous Controller (CC) messages. The music keyboard and drum pad units look like fun, but the money piece is the mix controller, shown below.

The nanoKONTROL comes with nine very short throw faders, nine associated knobs, and eighteen buttons for (I presume) mute and solo. It also features a transport section that lacks only a jog/shuttle wheel, and speaks MIDI Machine Control (MMC). A software app called Korg KONTROL Editor promises to provide a friendly interface when it’s time to program this Bad Boy, and the ability to store programs and settings on computer for later recall. I’ll def have to get my mitts on one of these mix controllers for review in RAP, ASAP.

Pricing and delivery information is not yet available, of course. But you can get firsthand info at Korg’s USA website here, or if you’re fluent reading Japanese you can check it out at the source here.

May’s product reviews in RAP magazine

I haven’t decided yet, actually. In fact, I just figured out that I have another couple weeks to finish writing it (joy!).

But I’ve been playing with two very kewl products… the MicPort Pro from CEntrance and Magix’s Samplitude 10. Actually I’ve been playing with both at the same time. MicPort is a USB-to-audio converter that so far sounds great, unlike some others out there. Most of the existing converters are noisy and sound like crap, but the MicPort actually sounds very good, and does 96k/24 bits to boot. I think I’m keeping this one.

Samplitude 10, like previous versions (the last one I reviewed was version 8 back in 2005), is very deep. My concern with it is finding whether it’s still a resource-hog… I’ll be checking that this week. More later.

Disassembling a MacBook Air

Apple says their MacBook Air can only be serviced by the Mothership. While that’s smart while it’s under warranty, at some point the Air will become fair game for DIY fixing. You knew someone was going to ignore Apple’s FUD regarding opening the Air, and make it public to boot.disassemairlg

The nice folks at in Atascadero, CA have documented a complete teardown of a MacBook Air, including photos. Click this thumbnail to see it all:

BTW, iFixit is my first stop when I’ve got an Apple-related hardware problem. Their how-to guides have walked me through more than one laptop teardown. Others sell hard drives and memory for less, but if you need other bits for an Apple product you need to go there. Seriously.

Pro Tools in Yer Pocket

Pro Tools users almost got what they’ve begged and pleaded for o these many years — Digidesign just introduced the Mbox Micro, a USB stick audio interface with stereo outputs (but no inputs) for $279. It’s clever enough… on the end there’s a 1/8th-inch stereo output jack and a little thumbwheel volume control. Otherwise it looks like a USB memory stick, with no cables to connect and no controls save the thumbwheel. Digi says it’ll be available in mid-November.

Now before we all go bonkers, let’s remember that there are no inputs on this little dingus. So while it’s great for mixing and editing on an airplane flight, it won’t really do for cutting voiceovers in a hotel room, right? ‘Cause there’s no inputs, right? ‘Cause Pro Tools won’t recognize any inputs other than the one that’s on the Digidesign interface, right? And this interface ain’t got none, right?


Continue reading Pro Tools in Yer Pocket

ClearOne Chat 50 USB in Nov 2009 ProAV Magazine

I’ve just finished writing a Peer Review piece for ProAV magazine on the Chat 50 USB by ClearOne. ClearOne Chat 50 USBThis is one sweet Skype-ing machine. This little box sounds great for VoIP — it has a full sound and the intelligibility is excellent. It works in full-duplex mode, so it doesn’t cut off the sound of the other party when the caller speaks over him. Clear One includes software for adjusting the internal input and output levels and for disabling the Chat 50’s echo canceling feature, and the software can then store these settings in a database of devices for later recall.

The downsides are so very minor — ClearOne says it can be used as a remote speaker for an iPod. Well, yes it can, but you won’t like the results for that… it’s a bit boxey-sounding. But for speech, it is fabulous. I’m keeping mine. Check it out in November’s ProAV, which can be found here.

No Alphatracks until May, dammit

I’m trying to get my hands on one of Frontier Designs’ new Alphatrack fader controllers for a magazine review and general thrashing. I played with one at NAMM in January and it wuz kewl – it’s a compact desktop controller consisting of a single moving fader and several knobs that would seem perfect for a small studio.

Now it seems they’ve sold through the first three production runs, and won’t have a loose one for me until mid-May. Damn thing must be good, or at least popular with the early-adopter crowd. More to come, but meanwhile you can look at the pretty pictures here.

Bellyin’ up to the Genius Bar

The power adapter for my MacBook Pro shorted out at the MagSafe connector yesterday. It was not a spectacular failure, but it did involve a wisp or two of smoke and a blackened hole in the insulation behind the plug. Time to get Apple to replace it, which brings us to the topic of Apple’s Genius Bar:

The Genius Bar

If you’ve never been to an Apple Store, the Genius Bar is where you take your Mac or iPod when it is misbehaving. The friendly (and uniformly young/hip/gen-Y) technicians will examine your machine, answer your questions, and run some diagnostic software to see what’s troubling it. It’s a busy place, and you have to make an appointment and get in line to see an Apple Genius. You can make an appointment via Apple’s website before you leave for the Store, or you can do it in the Store on one of the (surprise) Macs on the retail floor. Your name and place in the waiting list is then displayed prominently on one of several large plasma displays in the Genius Bar area.

This should clue you that This Is Going To Take A While.

Continue reading Bellyin’ up to the Genius Bar